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Labour's new leader: I'm up to the job

Published: 5:05AM Tuesday December 13, 2011 Source: ONE News

New Labour Party leader David Shearer says he is up to the job of ousting John Key's National-led Government in three years.

Shearer has beaten David Cunliffe to the job, with Grant Robertson alongside him as deputy.

The Mount Albert MP has come from relative obscurity with less that one full term in Parliament, to take over the Labour reins from Phil Goff.

After today's caucus vote, Shearer said he is "a fresh face for Labour" and represents a "fresh start for New Zealand".

On Close Up, he said he can overturn Key.

"And that'll happen," he said.

"I mean I truly believe that I'm up to the job to do that. I believe that I've got a team, behind me that can do that job. And I think we've got the policies and the vision to be able to do it as well."

"We've got a big task ahead of us and we've got to reconnect with a whole bunch of New Zealanders that didn't see us as the party for them."

Asked if he will do that by sweeping the old guard off the front bench, he said: "We've got a mix of experience and freshness there and what I want to try and do is make a front bench that really looks new. It will be new. It'll be different, it'll be fresh and it'll take us forward in 2014."

Shearer said he will be judged in a year's time on how the party looks and the community's response to it.

"That the Labour Party looks different, it feels different, people are invigorated. And people out there in the community are saying 'you know, that David Shearer and the Labour Party, they stand up for me because I'm out there working hard and these guys look after people who work hard'."
The 34-member caucus chose him in a secret vote this morning after Labour's election drubbing saw Phil Goff and Annette King stand aside.

After the caucus vote was declared, Shearer said he was "humbled to be leader", and wants Labour to be known as "a party of ideas".

"We have lost our connection with hard-working, talented Kiwis - the kind of people who are working two jobs to pay the bills or slogging their guts out building a new business. Under my leadership, we will rebuild and reconnect."

He said his priority will be to get around the country and hear what Kiwis want from Labour and to rebuild the party."When I asked my colleagues for their confidence, I asked for a mandate for change. I think we need to listen much harder, I think we need to work harder and in a more unified way," Shearer said.

Unity the challenge
And ONE News political editor Guyon Espiner says unity will be the challenge because the triumph for Shearer means defeat for Cunliffe and his running mate Nanaia Mahuta.  
"Of course there's an element of personal disappointment in part because I know that there have been many people who have supported what Nanaia and I have stood for here and you can't help feel that some way you have let them down," Cunliffe said.

Labour's Maori caucus backed the Cunliffe/Mahuta pairing and today the party got a coded warning from Mahuta about taking that vote for granted. 

"I think the The Labour Party understands that we have to tread carefully with our core vote which is our Maori and Pacific constituencies," she said.
Meanwhile the new leader was trying to begin the healing process with a nod to the defeated duo.
"It's a testament to their conduct and also the conduct of Phil Goff and Annette King that we come out of this caucus meeting today more unified and more energised than we went in," Shearer said.

But how long will that unity last?

Espiner asked Cunliffe if this is his only shot at the leadership.

"Oh goodness me I have got a whole lot of summer barbeques and more than one or two cold beers ahead of me before I even approach that kind of question," Cunliffe replied.

When the question was repeated he said: "I am pledging complete and total support to the new leader of the Labour party. I have no leadership ambitions at this point."

Espiner says whether "at this point" becomes "never at all" will depend on how Shearer performs over the next 18 months. 

'Massive risk'

Espiner says his sources tell him that about 22 of the 34 caucus votes went to Shearer. If that's the case it's a pretty significant victory for him, Espiner says.

He also says the result is a massive risk for the Labour Party. Shearer would be one of the most inexperienced MPs ever to take the leadership of a major party, having not even served a full term in Parliament, Espiner says.

In other decisions today, Chris Hipkins will be Labour's chief whip with Darien Fenton chosen as junior whip.
Read more about David Shearer here